Holiness: “sweet, pleasant, charming, lovely, amiable, delightful, serene, calm and still”
Countless people throughout the history of the church have registered their thoughts and reflections in something of a personal journal or intellectual diary. But no one, to my knowledge, has left us so rich a treasure chest of spiritual and theological insights as has Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). Continue reading . . .
Countless people throughout the history of the church have registered their thoughts and reflections in something of a personal journal or intellectual diary. But no one, to my knowledge, has left us so rich a treasure chest of spiritual and theological insights as has Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). Edwards made his first entry in what he called the “Miscellanies” in 1722 and continued regularly to add to them even into the last year of his life. Thomas Schafer, the premier Edwardsean scholar on the Miscellanies, has noted that “for thirty-five years these notebooks trace the intellectual development and maturation of one of America’s foremost theologians, providing valuable insights into his mind and spirit” (Yale, 13:1).
There is no indication that Edwards ever intended the Miscellanies to be published. This alerts us to the fact that we need to be careful lest we think that each entry represents his final reflections on any particular topic. They are assuredly deep and insightful, but were intended to record his thoughts at the time and may not always be precisely the same as what we read in his published books and sermons.
The first Miscellany (he numbered them a-z, aa-zz, and then 1 to approximately 1,400) concerns the beauty of holiness. It is only fitting that the first one be of such remarkable depth and clarity.
Holiness, said Edwards, “is a most beautiful and lovely thing” (13:163). Contrast this with our current perspective on holiness, all too often associated with a somber visage, a depressed spirit, and a colorless lifestyle in which “not” doing this or that is considered the essence of a holy life. As Edwards himself points out, we have embraced a notion of so-called “holiness” as if it were “a melancholy, morose, sour and unpleasant thing.” But “there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely” (13:163).
Perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves: is this how we conceive of holiness? Do we envision it as a killjoy, a way of life devoid of beauty and happiness, an approach to activities primarily designed to tell us what we can’t do, where we can’t go, and what we can’t say, see, or hear? If so, we need to heed Edwards’ counsel. Holiness, he argues, is
“the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties. ‘Tis a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth; this world is like mire and filth and defilement to that soul which is sanctified. ‘Tis of a sweet, pleasant, charming, lovely, amiable, delightful, serene, calm and still nature. ‘Tis almost too high a beauty for any creatures to be adorned with; it makes the soul a little, sweet and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah” (13:163).
One can only imagine the impact of the Church on surrounding society if this were its vision of holiness. Instead of defining it in terms of what we aren’t, Edwards masterfully describes it as the soul of a man or woman living as “a little, sweet and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah.” Who would not be drawn to this version of holiness? Who could resist the appeal and witness of men and women whose lives were a “sweet and delightful image” of God himself?
May we immediately and forever set aside the corrupt and distorted idea of “holiness” as a joyless, rule-bound, and oppressive denial of those blessings that God has given us to enjoy. May our lives instead be of such quality and flavor that people see and hear in us a “sweet and delightful image” of the beauty and love of God himself.